The story of Cambridge Analytica’s involvement with Facebook and the accessing of data for millions of Facebook users is troubling. But as Leah Wright Rigueur and Bärí A. Williams wrote in a blog for Huffington Post, the whole incident illustrates why diversity in tech really does matter.
“While the deliberate political marginalization of racial minorities hasn’t changed over the decades, what has become increasingly clear as Facebook and Cambridge Analytica offered their alarming and convoluted narratives is that the technology that allows politicos to target these groups has evolved dramatically,” Rigueur and Williams wrote.
Rigueur is a historian and assistant professor of public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School and author of “The Loneliness of the Black Republican.” Williams previously served as lead counsel for Facebook and created its supplier diversity program.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently testified before Congress about political, digital, and privacy abuses enabled by Facebook. Much of the controversy centers about the social media giant’s dealings with Cambridge Analytica, a data and political consulting firm that worked extensively on the president’s 2016 campaign. Cambridge Analytica improperly accessed the private information of some 87 million Facebook users.
“In doing so, Cambridge Analytica provided the means for the Trump campaign not only to activate likely supporters but to influence minorities not to vote at all. (While Congress and the public are still sorting out the details, these efforts to depress minority voter turnout paralleled the campaign of “information warfare” orchestrated by Russia’s Internet Research Agency during the presidential contest.),” reported the Huffington Post.
Of course, this isn’t the only time efforts have been made to discourage the minority vote. “During the 1964 presidential election, for instance, a Republican consultant was indicted on charges of electoral fraud after he distributed more than a million misleading leaflets that claimed Martin Luther King Jr. wanted Black voters to write in his name for president,” Rigueur and Williams wrote.
And in 1980, Ronald Reagan had consultants who came up with a strategy of “holding down the black turnout.”
“Cambridge Analytica’s ability to target marginalized groups of voters was only possible because Facebook completely overlooked the potential for a nefarious organization to do so. This oversight, in the face of a long and glaring history of such attempted exploits, is a symptom of an industry culture that prioritizes speed and deprioritizes the lives of users in general, but racial minorities in particular. That, in turn, is a reflection of the absence of diversity in Silicon Valley, especially in leadership and policymaking positions,” Rigueur and Williams wrote.
Keep in mind, that according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reminds us that only 1 percent of management in Silicon Valley is black. And only just recently, Facebook named its first black director, Ken Chenault, to the board.
“Diversity is imperative at the highest levels in tech. Companies must elevate the opinions, suggestions and thought leadership of minorities, particularly around ideation, testing and implementation of new products. If they can’t do it quickly within the leadership, do it through supplier diversity programs and hire consultants to provide this information,” Rigueur and Williams concluded.
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